Kieran’s paper raised the pressing concern with the states’ moral responsibility for the deaths of migrants trying to cross borders. In particular, it asked whether the receiving states have a special duty to rescue migrants at borders, a duty that goes beyond the more general reasons to assist people in need. In answering this question, the paper contextualized the issue of border crossing and rescue in terms of the overall migration regime and immigration policies – emphasizing the fact that crossing borders is dangerous because “states deny certain people entry and then use guards and razor wire to keep them out.” It also drew attention to the fact that dangerous migration is mostly forced migration, highlighting the broader structures and processes of political, economic and social injustice and exploitation. Thereby, it blocked arguments by which receiving states might seek to “deflect responsibility for dangerous migration” by blaming migrants themselves. Instead, the paper pursued two lines of argument to explain why states bear moral, and not merely causal responsibility, for dangerous migration. First, states are morally responsible for rescuing migrants if they violate a duty to admit migrants in need. Second, the states’ restrictions on migration should not be understood as “passively allowing the migrants to suffer the consequences,” but more like actively harming.
The subsequent discussion addressed the moral implications of the paper’s argument, among others the question of the continued legitimacy of the state and of legal arrangements that are persistently used to subvert the states’ moral duties. Comments also raised the question of the prioritization of duties, placing the moral duty to assist migrants in relation to states’ duties with regards to climate change and other global challenges. Is the process of attributing moral responsibility a zero-sum game or can different duties be seen as coextensive to each other? In addition, the paper stirred an engaging conversation on the relations between the duty to rescue and the duty to admit, showing it might be difficult to distinguish where the first one ends and the other begins. Finally, what is the significance of viewing the harms of dangerous migration as conditioned by the systemic wrong of the migration regime? In this respect, the discussion about the moral duty of border rescue also raised the need for broader systemic transformation that would address the structures and policies that systematically produce dangerous migration.
By Maša Mrovlje